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Back To Basics: Your Guide To A Sexy Back

back muscles
11361023 - man and a woman in the gym

We’ve all seen someone with a sexy back either in the gym or on the beach and it almost undoubtedly sparks envy. It’s quite fascinating that the allure of muscle groups we never personally see can be so strong.

If you’re hoping to build a sexy back, you need a specific set of tools to do so, and I want to help you achieve it.

In this article, I’ll dive into what you need to focus on if your goal is to build a strong and sexy back.

What You’re Working On

Back training can seem straightforward, but once you get into the different muscle groups, you soon realize there are more requirements than simply doing lat pull downs over and over again.

While the major back muscles being worked include the latissimus dorsi (lats) and erector spinae (low back), you still need to consider other muscle groups. This includes muscle groups like rhomboids and even rear deltoids and trapezius. While the latter two might not always be considered “back” muscles, they still play a role in pulling movements and are also included in the appearance of your back.

What I’m trying to say here is that there are many different muscle groups that must be considered when “training back.” Additionally, you need to consider that other muscle groups, which aren’t traditionally considered as part of your back, still need to be trained appropriately if you hope to have a complete package.

Use Compounds

No workout suggestion is complete without recommending the use of compound movements. In terms of training back, this would include movements like the barbell deadlift and the barbell row.

Compound movements such as these are beneficial for two distinct reasons.

First, they allow you to use heavier weight than normal. This means a greater stimulus for growth for all muscle groups involved. Second, compound movements apply that stimulus to a large amount of muscle groups.

For instance, a barbell deadlift helps target your low back, but also your lats, traps, deltoids, rhomboids and even your legs. A bent over row provides much of the same, only with less leg activation.

Regardless of the muscle group you’re working on or your primary goal, the use of compound movements at the beginning of your workout will help ensure that you’re stimulating your muscles to the greatest extent possible. In turn, you can expect to receive greater and faster benefit.

Don’t Forget To Isolate

Even though compound movements do provide the greatest benefit per repetition, they also spread their area of effect across multiple muscle groups. This means that many groups are working in unison and no single muscle group is being maximally stimulated.

Isolation movements are beneficial because they allow you to work on singular muscle groups on their own. This is really beneficial for overloading specific muscles, especially if you need or want them to become more defined.

When training back (and just about any muscle group for that matter), I recommend having a 2:1 ratio of isolation to compound movements. That means for every 1 compound movement, you complete 2 isolation movements for similar muscle groups.

Granted, if you’re a power lifter, this ratio might be different. But for the purpose of improving muscular definition and tone, maintaining a 2:1 ratio is entirely appropriate.

Vary Your Grip

How Your Muscles are activated starts with your grip. It’s likely that you’ve seen people use different grips and if you aren’t already doing so, then you, too, should begin to.

Simply put, there are three main grips that you’ll want to focus on including:

  • Pronated: Palms facing away from you.
  • Supinated: Palms facing you.
  • Neutral: Palms facing each other.

The reasons for adjusting your grips is because doing so allows you to adjust how each movement targets your muscles. By changing the direction of your hands, you change how target muscles are activated.

For instance, if you’ve ever done a pull up (pronated) and compared it to a chin up (supinated), you’ll notice that a chin up is much easier. That’s because using a supinated grip increases activation of the biceps muscle during every pulling movement, providing greater assistance.

Additionally, by changing your grip, you stimulate varying parts of the target muscle differently. A pronated grip may activate the upper muscle fibers of the lat muscle compared to a supinated grip, which might activate the lower muscle fibers to a greater extent.

Mostly, by varying your grip, you stimulate different muscle groups to different extents, even if you’re using the same exercise movement.

Mix Up Reps & Weight

Just as you want to vary the exercises you’re doing, you also want to ensure that you’re regularly varying the amount of weight you’re using and the number of reps per set that you’re completing.

The best method to do this is called undulating periodization. That’s a big word but its meaning is actually quite simple. Essentially, each time you repeat an exercise, you adjust the weight and rep scheme.

For example, on workout 1, you might do 4 sets of bent over rows for 12 reps. The next time you complete bent over rows, you can then do 4 sets of 15 or 4 sets of 8.

By using this method, you avoid plateauing and ensure constant growth. Not to mention, by varying your weight and rep schemes, you change how your body improves.

If you train with lower reps and higher weight, you’ll get stronger. If you train with high reps and low weight, you’ll improve endurance. And if you have a combination of the two, you’ll most likely be able to improve muscle mass and definition.

Train Your Back Frequently

If you want to really build a sexy back, you want to make sure that you’re training those muscles regularly. Consistent stimulus to any muscle group is the easiest and most effective way to quickly improve.

When you exercise, your body initiates different processes to help you build muscle. But as you become more experienced, this response for muscle growth diminishes. This means that in order to improve, you need to regularly stimulate these muscle-building processes more often, otherwise, you won’t improve.

As a beginner, training your back once per week will likely be enough. But after 3-4 months of consistent exercise, it’s best practice to try and train your muscle groups more than once per week. As you become more experienced, you’ll realize which muscle groups (like your back) are most important, allowing you to increase frequency of exercise based on your preferences.

Don’t Forget About Traps, Delts and Erector Spinae

While your trapezius muscles and rear deltoids aren’t technically back muscles, they still play a role in most back movements as well as the appearance of your back. Additionally, while most people forget about them, your erector spinae muscles (low back) are still just as important as your lats.

I decided I should mention this because many people disregard these muscles, despite them being important for movement and aesthetics (how your back looks). Not to mention, having a strong low back is one of the number one ways to avoid back pain and injury.

While you can certainly complete these movements on other days (traps and delts are popular on shoulder day), I try to work these muscle groups on back day as well, just to ensure that I’m hitting them frequently enough. The amount you train these muscle groups will, of course, be according to your preferences.

back muscles

Back To Basics

If you couldn’t tell, many of these suggestions are not totally specific to your back muscles, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. At the end of the day, you want to train frequently, using compound and isolation movements and with many different weight and rep schemes.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to a strong and sexy back.

About the author

Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

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